There are few things as annoying as an obsessive thought that continually hammers our mind. When that thought embarrasses us, makes us feel guilty or horrifies us for the simple fact that it has crossed our mind, the problem takes on colossal proportions.
Indeed, our mind can be our best ally or our worst enemy. In some situations, when we are on the ropes dominated by uncertainty, if we do not have the appropriate psychological tools, anxiety can completely overwhelm us. In these cases, anxious and obsessive thoughts can literally turn our life into a nightmare.
What is thought-action fusion?
Every day all kinds of thoughts pass through our minds, some happy and some distressing. Generally we are able to filter the important thoughts at a given moment to pay attention to them, but sometimes we fail and some seemingly insignificant thoughts take over, replacing the rest, until they turn into an obsession. It is as if our mind takes on a life of its own and we cannot control it.
Thought-action fusion is precisely the tendency to believe that certain thoughts can become reality. We believe that simply thinking about something increases the likelihood of it happening, as if thinking that a loved one will get hurt could actually hurt them.
Usually the prospect is so distressing that we try to get the thought out of our mind. But the harder we try, the more it will get stronger because a Rebound Effect is produced. So we end up giving that fleeting thought disproportionate importance, to the point that it comes to dominate our mental activity.
The types of thought-action fusion
1. Probabilistic thought-action fusion. It is the belief that simply thinking about an event increases the likelihood of it happening. We may believe, for example, that if we think about a car accident, it is more likely to occur, in which case it is a thought-action merger with probability of its own. But we can also believe that if we think that our brother has suffered a car accident, we are more likely to have one too, which is called thought-action fusion with other probabilities.
2. Moral thought-action fusion. In this case, we believe that thinking of an action or behavior is morally equivalent to carrying it out. For example, we believe that thinking about hitting someone is as morally wrong as actually hitting them. Therefore, the very idea terrifies us and leads us to complain and blame ourselves, as if we did. In our mind, we don't separate thought from action.
The 4 traits that make us more likely to suffer from this cognitive distortion
The phenomenon of thought-action fusion was discovered in people with anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder, so psychologists initially thought it was limited to this area, but later they realized that we can all be victims. of this cognitive distortion at some point in our life.
However, there are some personality traits that make us more likely to suffer from thought-action blending:
1. Hyper-responsibility. People who take on too many responsibilities, including many who don't match them, are often more likely to believe that their thoughts may materialize because they tend to blame themselves for everything that happens.
2. Obsession with control. Even people who need to have everything under control are more likely to believe that their thoughts can become a threat, because they do not recognize that many of the things that happen do not depend on their will.
3. Tendency to worry. Those who tend to get lost in the maze of worries are also more likely to develop thought-action blending because they are unable to stop their thoughts. On the contrary, they feed them psychologically so that they continue to grow and become more threatening and invasive.
4. Low uncertainty tolerance. People who do not tolerate uncertain situations well have a tendency to anticipate events, generally falling into catastrophic thought patterns that end up generating enormous anxiety, to the point of preventing them from differentiating thoughts from actions.
The thought-action fusion activates the feeling of threat and makes us feel tremendously guilty, causing us to fall into a vicious circle of anxiety and distress that greatly worsens our mood, as found by a study conducted at the University of Sussex.
How to stop the thought-action fusion?
First, we must be aware that a thought, no matter how intense or terrible it may be, does not imply that what scares us so much is about to happen. Thoughts belong to the mental realm and their power to influence reality depends on our behaviors.
On the other hand, we must be aware that we can control our behaviors, but we have very little control over the thoughts that run through our mind, so we shouldn't feel guilty about an unwanted thought.
Regular practice of mindfulness meditation will help us get rid of the intrusive thoughts that are bothering us. The key is very simple: don't cling to them. If we don't care about them, they will vanish the same way they appeared because our attention is what feeds them.
A simple visualization exercise can help us let go of those thoughts. We should relax and imagine that our thoughts are like clouds and our minds are the sky. Some of those clouds are white and fluffy and even fun. Other clouds are black, large and menacing. But if we limit ourselves to just being outside spectators and don't cling to thoughts, they will eventually pass by, just like clouds. We just need to clear our minds, making sure we don't react emotionally.
During the day our mind records an average of 60.000 thoughts, so if we don't cling to some of them, sooner or later the ones that annoy us will disappear, giving way to others.